Jackie Bradley Jr. has three hits in his first 25 at-bats as a major leaguer. By that measure, it would be easy to assume the 22-year-old Red Sox rookie left fielder has been overmatched.
Instead, there is a sense of perspective uncommon for a player his age.
“This is one of those periods. Every hitter goes through it,” Bradley said Friday after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays was postponed by rain. “I’m willing to work through it. It’s definitely not going to affect me in the long run.”
Bradley doesn’t even necessarily feel he’s slumping, pointing out that 32 plate appearances over eight games is a small sample size. But he understands that a first-year player is going to get scrutinized more.
“The learning curve is always going to be there,” Bradley said. “I’d rather face adversity now. People will say, ‘He didn’t waver when he first started.’ I’m seeing the pitches just fine; I’m just missing them. I’ll hit the ball.”
Bradley is hitless in his last 14 at-bats, with six strikeouts. Worse, he has not gotten the ball out of the infield in that stretch.
“It’s only been a few days,” he said. “But it feels like an eternity. I’m getting on top of the ball and hitting weak ground balls.
“I can only get stronger. I can only get better. It’ll all work out. I’m going to keep learning, I’m going to keep fighting, I’m going to keep grinding.”
Bradley was out of the lineup against Baltimore lefthander Wei-Yin Chen on Monday and was pinch-hit for in the seventh inning Thursday with lefty Brian Matusz on the mound.
With Cy Young Award-winning lefthander David Price on the mound for the Rays Saturday afternoon, Bradley may not be in the lineup again.
Manager John Farrell, who as a pitching coach made his living plotting against hitters, has spotted a trend that Bradley needs to adjust to.
“They’ve probably exploited the inside part of the plate on him a little bit more,” said Farrell, who also has noticed Bradley fouling back pitches early in the count that he hit hard in spring training.
His .120 batting average aside, Bradley is tied with Dustin Pedroia for the team lead with six walks. He also is seeing 4.13 pitches per plate appearance, 25th in the majors.
“The one thing that hasn’t changed is that he’s still fought his way back deep into counts,” said Farrell. “He’ll drive the pitch count up. But yet they’ve exploited the inside part of the plate on him.”
Bradley has faced 19 different pitchers. He has seen one legend (Mariano Rivera) and a few All-Stars (CC Sabathia, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson) along the way.
“I’ve seen high and in, high away, low away, up and in, down and in. I’ve pretty much seen it all,” Bradley said. “It’s too small a number to get a definite tell of what they’re trying to do.”
Bradley does not watch video of opposing pitchers in an attempt to anticipate what is coming. He prefers to trust his own eyes.
“I just try to play the game,” he said. “Of course I’ll check it out here and there. But it’s not something that I necessarily study. I don’t want to get so tied up in video. I want to see it in person first and then maybe study it.”
Said Farrell, “The greatest teacher is what goes on in between the lines, and he’s dealing with that first-hand. I’m sure his survival skills will kick in.”
Teammate Will Middlebrooks knows the feeling of trying to process so much information after getting called up for the first time.
“I went through the same thing,” he said. “I noticed it after the first few series,” he said. “It’s tough because it changes with every pitcher, what they’ll try to do against you.
“I was looking for a fastball middle away and I had to learn to take those cutters that broke off the plate. I had to learn the pitchers. Jackie is facing these guys for the first time. He knows what we tell him but he has to see it himself.”
In time, Middlebrooks said, Bradley will learn how to use video and scouting reports to his advantage.
“A pitcher can look at every single swing you’ve taken,” Middlebrooks said. “They can figure you out pretty fast. They can even pull spring training footage.”
Middlebrooks compensated by watching how pitchers approached hitters he felt were similar to him. Seeing pitches thrown to Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria were helpful.
“A righthanded hitter, looking to hit for power who hits the ball to all fields. I would go watch a guy like [Longoria] to get a sense of what they might do,” Middlebrooks said. “But I also learned that what the last team did to get you out is probably what the next team will do, too.”
Middlebrooks played 96 games at Double A Portland in 2011 before getting 16 games with Triple A Pawtucket. He hit .161 and returned to Triple A to start the 2012 season.
Middlebrooks hit .333 for Pawtucket with a 1.057 OPS in 24 games and then was promoted to the majors in May.
Bradley’s slump underscores the fact that he has skipped over Pawtucket after playing 61 games for Portland last season.
“I don’t think he’s faced the consistency of command by pitchers on the mound at previous levels,” Farrell said. “That’s as much a factor in this as anything.”
The last 12 days have been a whirlwind for Bradley. After making the team, he has played eight games in three cities against three different teams.
He has dozens of ticket requests, family members to attend to, and newfound celebrity. The Red Sox were selling T-shirts with his name and No. 44 on the back before he played his first game at Fenway Park.
“This is all just an adjustment period,” Bradley said. “I’ll be just fine, I promise.”